Eighty-two workers at Strathcona Gardens have been on the picket lines outside the facility since November 22nd, and on Saturday, members of the community joined them.
People like 76-year-old Dave Coverdale joined them to show his support. He usually takes part in a program at the Gardens called Take Heart to stay healthy after open-heart surgery.
“The people here who run the program are just incredible people inspiring me to get better and healthier and so I’m here to support them,” Coverdale said.
Youth hockey is another major user group affected by the strike.
Hockey mom and U-15 Tyees Manager Chantelle May was recently in a two-vehicle crash while travelling to Courtenay for a game normally played at Strathcona Gardens. In slippery conditions, her vehicle was hit by another vehicle that had crossed the centre line.
“It was kind of a big moment for us where we decided something had to change,” she said. “There are more people who are going to be travelling in these conditions that are potentially going to be injured when we don’t have to be.”
“The community is really getting frustrated. I think they really understand what’s going on and they just want the two parties to get back to the table and start talking to each other and get a fair deal for these workers,” said United Steel Workers Union Local 1-1937 negotiator Shelley Seimens.
Wages are the main issue and the employer, the Strathcona Regional District says union leadership rejected an offer in mid-December that included a $750 signing bonus.
Strathcona Regional District CAO David Leitch says the union membership never saw the offer.
“They literally hired a lawyer to prevent the offer from going to the membership which I don’t understand, it confuses me. If the membership didn’t like it they’re happy to vote it down.”
A USW 1-1937 press release at the time stated: “Their offer, which was very close to their last offer that the USW members had previously voted down, included a signing bonus pending ratification of $750. That bonus really excluded some of the employees, as it stated that it is to be prorated for part-time members for the year 2021 in which time most of the workers in the world were isolated at home.”
Union members say some positions are paid well below similar jobs in other municipalities and there’s a worker shortage because of it.
“Why would they come here when they can go to a town like Ladysmith or Port Alberni and make $6 more an hour for the same job?” asked Laura Boyle, union chair.
“We just want to stay with inflation, that’s the biggest thing,” said striking maintenance worker Ray Stormo.
But the Regional District says it is offering wage increases above inflation as measured by the B.C. Consumer Price Index.
“So the first two years of this agreement for example CPI was 0.8 per cent last year and let’s say it’s 2.5 per cent which is what it looks like it’s going to be for 2021, so over two years that 3.3 per cent and we’re offering 4.25 per cent,” said Leitch.